Published: 27/03/2003, Volume II3, No. 5848 Page 7

Private sector healthcare staff could be crucial in determining the future pay system for NHS employees - because they have been included in balloting on the Agenda for Change proposals.

Voting on Agenda for Change is under way in the 355,000-strong Royal College of Nursing, where all members are being balloted on whether to accept the proposals for a new NHS pay system, linked to a pay offer of 3.225 per cent for three years.

But 27 per cent of the RCN's membership works in the independent sector, while other members are employed in higher education or by GP practices not covered by Agenda for Change.

The RCN is urging private sector nurses to vote for Agenda for Change. Employment relations director John Humphreys said:

'Clearly the proposals, if supported, will directly apply to the NHS. But in respect of independent sector, non-NHS public sector and GP practice nurses, our policy is to get equivalent [terms and conditions] across the sector.

Given the importance of pay across the sectors, we are balloting all nurses.'

But one trade union source told HSJ: 'It is not my business to comment on the affairs of other unions, but I find this very strange.How would nurses working in a private company like it if NHS staff were to determine their increases?'

In Unison, the current proposal on the union's planned two-stage ballot covers 'all health members', but a spokesperson said the matter was due to be discussed at a meeting of the health service group executive this week, with particular attention to members in support services contracted out of the NHS. A final decision on balloting will come from Unison's health conference next month.

Amicus is set to ballot NHS staff only, while Royal College of Midwives head of employment relations Jon Skewes said all full members were being balloted, but this included less than 100 staff from the independent sector.